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Federal Protections Coming For Pregnant Workers?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate last month and would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees similar to those required under the ADA for employees with disabilities.

California is already ahead of the federal government on workplace protections for pregnant women, allowing disability leave and accommodation for pregnancy-related conditions. This act would classify pregnancy as a disability at the federal level, expanding pregnancy protections outside California’s borders.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to fire a worker because she is pregnant, but it does not require an employer to make reasonable accommodations. For example, former Walmart sales associate Heather Wiseman was fired by the big box retailer for insubordination. Frequent bladder infections were a side effect of her pregnancy but something she could alleviate and potentially avoid by staying hydrated throughout the day.

Walmart does not allow employees other than cashiers to carry water bottles with them during their shift. Wiseman was first warned and then fired when she continued to carry the water bottle with her. Classifying pregnancy as a disability would have forced Walmart to make the reasonable accommodation of allowing Wiseman to carry water with her during her shift; if the corporation chose not to, it could then be held liable for money damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

The Act removes the necessity for women to choose between the health of their unborn child and their jobs, according to advocates. With more than 40 percent of women acting as the primary breadwinner for their families, allowing women to work later into their pregnancies and offering protections against an employer’s refusal to make reasonable accommodations may help ensure that growing families are able to meet their own financial needs.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Workplace Pregnancy Bill Introduced Despite Opposition,” September 25, 2012

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